Brian Chesky, Head of Airbnb: “ The world is super uncertain ”

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When Silicon Valley visionaries are ordained multi-billionaires, it usually happens when surrounded by cheering bankers, investors and colleagues in a Wall Street trading room.

Instead, Brian Chesky’s moment came home to San Francisco, in the company of his golden retriever Sandy. “She loves the frenetic energy,” Mr. Chesky said in an interview with the Financial Times.

Airbnb CEO and co-founder observed Thursday that his company’s share price doubled immediately initial public offering.

At the end of the trading day, his stake in the house-sharing company was worth just over $ 11 billion. Airbnb itself was worth almost $ 100 billion.

In private, Mr. Chesky had long hesitated to make Airbnb public. Fearing the influence Wall Street’s short-term thinking might have on his business, he had at least hoped that the hype around his outlook could be tempered as Airbnb introduced new products and invested in growth.

Obviously, it is now out of the window. Investors gave the company a Evaluation higher than that of the three largest American hotel chains combined.

It puts pressure on a 39-year-old chief executive to meet sky-high expectations at a time when the company has yet to fully recover from the effects of the pandemic on its business.

“I think a lot of people who buy stocks know that the world is extremely uncertain,” he said. “Things will increase, things will deteriorate. . . We don’t know when the trip will reopen. I think we’ve tried to do our best to disclose this.

He added: “I think we’ll just have to take a step back.”

Mr. Chesky grew up in Niskayuna, a small town in upstate New York. Her parents – Debbie and Bob – were both social workers.

“I never heard the letters ‘IPO’ when I was growing up,” Mr. Chesky said. “An entrepreneur for me was someone who ran the local pizzeria.”

He met one of his future co-founders, Joe Gebbia, while studying design. By 2007, the two had moved to San Francisco, where they met their third co-founder, software engineer Nathan Blecharczyk.

Together, they launched “Airbed and breakfast”, offering inexpensive accommodation – their apartment – to attendees of a design conference. While the first guests were still in the house, they worked on a pitch deck to show to potential investors.

Struggling for money, the team would land a coveted spot on Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s famous accelerator program for promising start-ups. Michael Seibel, who is now Managing Director of Y Combinator, pushed the team to apply.

“I think what’s interesting about Brian and the co-founders is that they were the early adopters of their product, not just as travelers, but as hosts,” Seibel said. . “Whenever there was a challenge, they didn’t think about it in theory. They could step back into their shoes and say, “What would we have wanted in this situation?

Mr. Chesky’s instincts did not always serve him well, however. He was slow to acknowledge the presence of racial discrimination on the platform amid troubling evidence that it was more difficult for blacks to book rooms because of discriminatory hosts.

In 2015, the company was ridiculed as deaf when it ran a series of ads in San Francisco with “suggestions” for how the city should spend its tax revenues.

And during the pandemic, some hosts criticized the company for forcing it to offer a full refund to customers kept out by the lockdown and travel restrictions. He would later write a letter of apology and set up a fund to recover a quarter of the hosts’ lost income.

As a public company, this type of control will intensify, especially when it comes to tensions between Airbnb and the cities in which it operates.

Longtime mentor and strategic advisor Chip Conley said Chesky has learned that long-term success requires working with regulators rather than against them.

“He wanted to stop being Uber over time,” Conley said. “A little more courteous and less competitive in terms of relations with competitors, as well as with regulatory authorities.”

Supporters of Mr Chesky say he survived the pandemic, which involved cut a quarter of its staff, is sufficient proof that it can manage the pressures that it now faces from outside investors.

“I don’t think the challenge of being a CEO of the public market comes close to the challenge of shaping global travel over the next decade,” Mr. Seibel said. “That’s Brian’s challenge.”

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